Understanding the parts of an axe is super-helpful knowledge to have in your arsenal. It’ll help you understand the terminology when looking for the right axe to buy. Throwing a few of these terms into conversations will also make you look like an axe professional.  

Remembering each axe part is easy as the names mainly refer to human body parts. Keep reading to get the essential list of axe terms – an ultimate crash course in axe anatomy.

What are the different parts of an axe?

Although axes vary depending on their type, they all have a head and a handle. The axe head has a bit, toe, heel, beard, cheek, and butt; the axes handle comprises an eye, knob, throat, belly, and shoulder.

Check out the axe diagram below for a quick overview.

The anatomy of an axe

1. Head

The axe’s head is the hard section of the tool which does the cutting. It makes up the bulk of the tool’s weight and can be forged in various shapes and sizes, depending on its purpose.

The head was traditionally made with stone, bronze, or copper. Over time, steel, iron, and composite materials became more commonly used.   

2. Bit

The axe’s bit is the cutting edge, also known as the blade. It is an integral part of the axe that will significantly impact its cutting power.

The bit must withstand high impact as it is the point of contact. All the force from the tool passes through it. An aggressively thin blade profile will cut through wood easier but is prone to breakage.  

Over the centuries, blacksmiths have focused on strengthening the steel to make the bit. Modern axes often use hardened steel for the blade.  

  • Axes sold in stores are typically single bit, meaning they have only one blade.
  • Double bit axes have blades on both sides of the head.

Bit maintenance is essential when using a felling axe, carpenter’s axe, or hatchet. Sharpening the blade and removing unwanted material will make chopping tasks much easier and safer. Splitting axes rely on brute force to break through wood, so maintaining a razor-sharp bit isn’t as important.

3. Toe

The toe is located on the top corner of the axe’s bit. It plays an important role in intricate, detailed woodwork projects.

Holding the axe at the top of the handle offers greater blade control. Use it in a similar way to a knife for whittling. Carving and shaping curves and corners is easier when using the toe. 

The axe’s toe is an important part when axe throwing. Contestants will attempt to hit their target with the toe for the best results.

When chopping wood, think of the axe’s blade as the bottom of a foot. The bottom of the edge (heel) lands first, followed by the toe. Some people believe it’s called the toe because that’s the body part reckless woodchoppers usually chop off.

4. Heel

The heel is at the bottom corner of the bit, opposite the toe. Like the toe, this section can come in handy for detailed chopping and carving.

Some axe heels are in line with the rest of the head, forming a straight line to the handle. If they extend below the rest of the head, the axe has a beard.

5. Beard

The beard, or hook, is the concave section at the bottom of the head. It starts at the handle and ends at the heel.

Not all axes have a beard. Some varieties, like the broad axe, have long beards. It’s helpful if you need a wide-cutting surface without adding too much extra weight. A limbing axe has a large beard which removes bark and wood material from logs easily.

Carpenter’s and carving axes have a space between the top of the handle and the heel. This area is helpful for holding the axe for detailed work and protecting the hand during a misdirected swing.

6. Cheek

The cheeks, or faces, are located on each side of the axe head. They are smooth and come in a range of inclines. You’ll find it easier to chop with sharper wedges, but the tradeoff is that they’re less durable.

An axe with a less aggressive incline won’t have the same ability to cut through wood fibers. It is better for other jobs like wood splitting and removing small branches or bark from a fallen tree.

7. Butt

The butt is the section of the head that’s opposite the blade. It is also known as the poll or hammer and usually has a broad flat area that is useful for light hammering jobs.

The butt is only seen on single bit axes and is an excellent counterbalance to the blade. Swinging an axe with a well-designed poll will feel much more natural.

In addition to balance, a poll adds weight to the head. Each swing increases swing power and gravity force with the additional weight. A heavy-duty splitting axe has a large, heavy poll to help crush through large, knotted logs. 

Take care of the butt, as most haven’t been heat treated to withstand extreme blows. Instead, use it for lower-impact jobs like driving in wood stakes. Never bash on hard objects like nails or steel wedges.

8. Handle

As you’d expect, the handle of an axe is used to hold onto the tool. It is usually lighter than the head and comes in various shapes, lengths, and weights.

While handles were traditionally made of wood like hickory, new manufacturers use a range of composite materials. These new handles offer benefits such as reduced weight and shock absorption.

Longer handles offer the benefit of increased leverage and power. However, they can be cumbersome to swing and are limited in use.

Hatchets have very short handles making them easy to maneuver and useful for a versatile range of tasks. Reduced length sacrifices power, so hatchets aren’t ideal for big splitting jobs or felling large trees.

9. Eye

The eye is the hole in the axe head that allows the handle to be connected. It is found in the center of the head to provide optimal balance. A wedge uses frictional to keep the handle and head firmly secure.

The eye is an integral part of the axe, but it creates a weak spot. A common reason axes need to be repaired is handles coming loose here.

Not all axes have an eye. Some manufacturers produce all-steel products that are all one piece. Composite handle axes like the Fiskars range also avoid using an eye.  

10. Knob

At the end of the handle is the knob, which often flares out. This feature helps stop the axe from slipping out of your hands.

Some knobs have a lanyard hole handy for hanging the tool in sheds or on the back of a pack.

11. Throat

Throat design plays a significant role in comfort and durability. It is a section of the handle that nears the knob.

The throat plays an important role in how easy the tool is to hold. It must feel comfortable whether the axe is used for competitions, yard work, or throwing.

Some axe brands have a straight throat, while others are concave. When choosing an axe, pay close attention to its ergonomics. A poorly made throat will result in tired, sore hands and wrists.  

12. Belly

The axe’s belly is an extended front section of the handle that starts in the middle and ends near the axe head. Some bellies are straight, while others have a convex curve.

A good-quality wood handle will be free from knots and have a straight grain.

13. Shoulder

The shoulder of an axe is part of the handle, located next to the head. They often have a prominent curve, although some are straight.

To get maximum control, position your dominant hand just below the shoulder. You’ll lose power but gain a high degree of accuracy.

Tip: Are you looking to invest in a new axe? Check out our guide on how to select an axe that’s right for you.  

Commonly asked questions

What is the handle of an axe called?

The handle of an axe is also known as a haft. Although hafts have been crafted for centuries out of wood, they are made today from steel or composite materials.

What part of an axe is the grip?

The grip of an axe is the best location to position your hands when swinging. Before swinging, the dominant hand is placed near the belly, while the non-dominant hand gets positioned on the throat.

What is the head of an axe?

The axe head is the entire steel portion shaped as a cutting tool or mechanical wedge. At one end is the sharpened blade, while the other is the butt which is usually flat. 

Summing up

For a simple tool, there are a surprising number of axe parts. This article illustrates the basic makeup of an axe, but you’ll find there is more to this tool than what’s listed on this page.

Parts will vary depending on the type of axe and brand. An axe that’s all steel will be eyeless, and double bit axes won’t have a butt. But in most cases, whether its a full-sized felling axe or a small hatchet, the anatomy of an axe remains the same.

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